“Gokayama” in Toyama Prefecture, where “gassho-zukuri” houses are well preserved, is on the World Heritage List together with “Shirakawa-go” in Gifu Prefecture.
Unlike Shirakawa-go which can be easily accessed from Takayama, Gokayama has not been spoiled with too many sightseers as it is secluded. Both Gokayama and Shirakawa-go are located in a valley surrounded by high mountains, therefore these villages had nothing to do with the modernization after the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century. The unique houses with steep roofs, what is called gassho-zukuri, are the distinctive feature in this area , because the steep roof works against the very heavy snow. *Gassho-zukuri: A house with steep thatched rafter roof. The picture shows the settlement in Ainokura, Gokayama. As the settlements in Gokayama area lacked a flatland for rice and other cereal cultivation, saltpeter, which was used to make gunpowder, was the local special product in the feudal days. In addition, this area is well known as the birthplace of Japanese folk songs, such as “kokiriko-bushi” and “mugiya-bushi”.
By Masahisa Takaki.